Back in college, there was this guy I worked with that, for six months at least, I had feelings for, but never said anything and, more importantly, never made it known in any way that I was interested in him. One night, my coworkers and I (and him) were all out at a pizza place and, after some beers, we both told each other outside of the bathrooms that we’d liked each other since I started the job and why did it take this long for us to tell each other? Then, we kissed. We kissed in the way that it said this was a thing, this could be big, this was going to mean something. He looked at me with love in his eyes and I tried to look at him back with that same look, but, I couldn’t. I was scared. I was more than scared, I was projecting the future heartbreak, the commitment I couldn’t make, the things I wouldn’t be able to say to him.
About thirty minutes later, I stepped outside of the restaurant alone to get some air and smoke a cigarette (sorry, mom) and I ran into an old neighbor of mine. He was drunk and full of the kind of honesty that only late-night run-ins with drunken acquaintances allows for and he pulled me into a small inlet between two restaurants and whispered in my ear about how much he wanted me, had wanted me for so long, and, as I let him kiss my neck, I saw, through my peripheral, my coworker watching us, his eyes vacant of that look he had before, and instead of running after him, I let it sink in all around me and I let my old neighbor continue to whisper in my ear and I thought, this feels right, this feels good in the way screwing everything over feels good when you’re scared and need a way out of that fear.
I never saw my old neighbor again. My coworker quit his job after two weeks. I never talked to him again.
I’ve started to think about that story a lot lately, because what I realized is that, in my fear of commitment and my fear of something real, I decided to cut ties with the unknown of that situation and do what I knew would eliminate the fear: fuck it all up before it was anything.
I used to think self-destruction was a way of harming yourself. I think it is, in a way, but more importantly, I think it’s a way to exert control over your life. The prospect of happiness, of love, these things are hard to hope for. In the darkness of our minds, those dimly-lit corners that whisper fears that sound like truths, our hope can work against us. Our hope can make us scared. Because, where there is hope, there is the possibility of disappointment, heartbreak, pain, loss.
The only way to satiate the need for control is to do the one thing we know the outcome for. When we fuck everything up, light fire to our lives, and go down self-destructive paths, we know what will happen. We will be left with nothing. And, being left with nothing means there’s nothing to lose. Nothing means no hope. Nothing means the potential for pain is out, only the pain we’ve caused ourselves and that pain is less than the pain others cause us.
Had he left me, that coworker, or had he broken my heart or we’d broken up into fractured pieces, that pain could have fractured me. But the pain I caused myself? That’s easy to wash away. I did it on purpose. I took control. I fucked it up. I rejected myself. I wasn’t rejected or less than or not enough. I didn’t have to find out if I wasn’t enough or that I wouldn’t be loved. I took control by fucking it up.
I used to wonder why I would make a mess of my life, why I’d find myself surrounded by the broken pieces of a life I forced to fall apart. I wondered why I prolonged my happiness, why I kept my heart away from love, why I caused myself what seemed like undue and unnecessary suffering and pain. I know why now. It was control. The uncertainty, the “what if,” the not knowing whether or not I’d suffer or be in pain at the hands of other people caused me to self-destruct my life many, many, many times. In some weird way, I was protecting myself and exerting control over my life.
It may work for a time, when we do this. We may feel in control, but I think that life happens and love happens and things get really juicy and good, when we let that go, when our desire to live outweighs the desire to avoid pain. Because, our careful control and our careful way of living may serve us, but it will keep us small and keep us from the big moments, the things that really matter. It can very well keep us from the thing we want the most: to love and be loved deeply and with abandon.